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Aug 20, 2015
keywords: Medical Neglect, 602 Administrative Appeals, Agreement to End Hostilities
From Prison Focus Issue 46
“People are coming out of the SHU skinny and pale. Their minds are effected… It start to change you.” Anonymous
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews with incarcerated men at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP). The interviews were conducted with 38 men, in March and June of this year. This report does not cover the Step Down Program (SDP) or Department Review Board (DRB), both of which are covered in a separate SDP/DRB report. All quotes were made by incarcerated men at PBSP.
The medical care at PBSP has not improved. CPF continues to receive reports of denied, untimely and less than inadequate care. It is widely believed among prisoners that withholding medical care is used as a method of retaliation. Doctors reportedly do not listen to the men and are falsifying information in prisoners’ charts. Some falsely claim that their patient turned down treatment. They downplay the symptoms and undermine men's claims in order to withhold medications and treatments. For example, one person reported that medical staff misrepresented his medical issues in his records, downplaying the degree of pain he was experiencing, and was consequently denied pain medications. Another person reported a severe skin condition that was classified as cosmetic and treatment was denied.
Medications are frequently confiscated upon arrival at PBSP, including from those with severe conditions such as chronic degenerative disc disease. After one person’s pain medications were confiscated, he was “barely able to get aspirin.” When a condition is chronic, such as allergies, instead of automatic renewal of their medications, they must make a medical request for an appointment each time their medication runs out, and pay for each appointment. Others have been told that their medications will be returned once they get to the mainline. In addition, some men refuse to go to the infirmary because it is “too risky” and “too dirty”. One reported that he will not even go to the infirmary, for fear that he will lose the medications he already has.
Items such as glasses, compression stockings for high blood pressure, back braces and canes are regularly denied or confiscated, from both the men already at PBSP, and those just arriving from other prisons. One man reported that he had his back brace confiscated when he arrived from Corcoran. He had to put in a new request, and go through the lengthy process of reacquiring the necessary items, a process he presumably already went through at Corcoran. Another man had his reading glasses confiscated upon arrival at PBSP and was made to order new ones through the prison canteen.
Men who suffer from Hepatitus C, which is rampant in California prisons, are not given access to medications known to prevent the onset of symptoms. MERS, a potentially fatal respiratory infection, and staph infections are not being treated properly. High blood pressure is widespread. Substandard food and excessive amounts of stress contribute to widespread hypertension and diabetes. Poor environmental conditions aggravate pre-existing health problems, while creating new ones. The alternate blowing of cold or hot air into the cells exasperates men’s aches and pain and promotes the flu and other illnesses.
Even if decent medical care was provided, the health of all men in solitary confinement would remain compromised due to the horrible conditions, food and abuse. Those who are in good health when admitted inevitably develop health problems that will almost certainly go left untreated.
Few challenge the fact that solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation negatively effect mental health. Men who did not suffer from mental health problems before solitary confinement, report developing problems that worsen with time spent in the SHU. Simply put by one person, “It starts to change you.” One man, recently released from the SHU to the mainline and allowed to have contact visits again, described how his deteriorating mental health and auditory hallucinations affected his visits with his wife. He explained that the movement of shadows was disconcerting, “like [the shadow of] a bird on the yard; you can’t figure out where it comes from and it’s paralyzing.”
Other reports describe memory loss, and becoming over- reactive to sounds while other sense are dulled. Aggression and depression escalate. Tempers are ignited with little or even no provocation.
We were informed that at some prisons mental health professionals distribute games and puzzles, but this does not happen at PBSP. Nevertheless, some men engage in activities such as math and mind games that help to stimulate his mind. One such example is a man who said he is trying to stave off losing his sanity “like my neighbors have.” Mental health check-ins are reportedly happening about once a week through the cell door.
CONFISCATION OF PERSONAL BELONGINGS
Cells are often searched when the men are not present but are at yard, in the shower or at a hearing of any sort. The prison confiscates many personal items, like letters and photos, that provide these men with some of the very few comforts they have. Items that one has had in their cells for years may be suddenly removed without explanation, and/or become a piece of evidence used towards validation, such as a photo of a friend or parent that the prison alleges is a gang associate. “IGI is saying that playing cards and pictures with puppy dogs are contraband.” One reported that photos and address book and family photos which were confiscated over a year ago have not been returned because, he was told, they are part of a pending IGI investigation.
The loss and destruction of important court papers is especially problematic. One individual had to start over on a prop 36 resentencing petition after IGI confiscated his legal papers, claiming that the witness list was a prohibited 3rd party communication.
Men arriving at PBSP from other prisons are systematically having their belongings taken or lost. Again, important documents frequently come up missing. The men are rarely allowed to keep all of the items that were approved at the prison from which they arrived, including medications, medical aids, extension cords, headphone extensions, FM tuners, grey sweatshirts and black shoes (shoes must be white), as well as the more personal items; photos, address books, drawings, legal papers and so on. “Anything they give us, they find a way to take. They will find something out of your control and use it against you.”
Most individuals in PB SHU are still only entitled to one package a year. The staff continue to arbitrarily deny package items that the catalogs state are approved. The vendors state that each item in their catalogs have been preapproved by the CDCR office of standardization. COs are reportedly supposed to open the packages in front of the men, however this often does not occur. The contents of one’s package are delivered in a bag, having already been rummaged through and missing items of which the recipient may or may not be informed.
One person who was sent a $360 book order by his family, but the individual was told that the books were on the disallowed list, which the family says is not the case. The books were never returned to his family, and has been unable to get a refund for the books. Others reported that their families tried to send annual packages, only to be told by the vendors that they could not send that person anything at all. Sometimes the delivery of a packages is so delayed that some of the food inside it goes bad.
602s are so frequently lost, delayed, uniformly denied or cause for retaliation, that some men no longer consider them as a resource worth using. Frequently, no responses are received at all. GG stated that he does not bother anymore because he “knows it won’t make it out of the building.” The process was described “as a joke” by one inmate. “The IGI is sent to investigate themselves,” he explained. “They lie and there is no accountability.” One person reported that when he filed a 602 appealing a 115 he had been issued, they sent the same officer that gave him the 115 to investigate it.
The risk of retaliation for submitting 602s is high. Nevertheless, many continue to submit 602s despite these problems. Each man is permitted to submit one 602 for a single issue every two weeks. This causes problems because if you have multiple issues to challenge, you can only appeal some because the others will no longer be eligible for appeal due to filing deadlines. For instance, if you received multiple mail stop notices during one week, you could only challenge the disallowment of one piece of mail. The others could not be 602’d later due to filing deadlines.
The IGI is slowly but surely returning to the use of innocuous, speculative information to issue 115s for STG/Gang activity. Primarily, imprisoned men who have been labeled leaders or members are being targeted, however, other people who have made complaints, submitted 602s or have litigation against CDCR are also targeted.
Though 115s are meant for specific behavior violations, PBSP IGI often do not identify a specific behavior, but rather write the all-inclusive term, “gang activity”. 115 violations are a serious consequence and can have real impact on the length of time an individual spends in solitary confinement.
There has been a notable increase in 115 write-ups that are mail-related, for alleged gang-related communications and activity. Following are a few such reports. One man was accused of “communication with the streets” after he wrote to a family member asking if they could help arrange for him to be celled with a friend of his, also at PBSP. He had been single celled for about eight years, and remains so at this time. Two men who were both writing to the same person received violations for a mutual “link” to somebody on the outside, and therefore, to each other. Another prisoner received a postcard asking if he had “heard from T.R.” When he responded that he had not, he was written up for gang-related communications, based on IGI’s claim that the initials were a code name for a gang associate. This sort of arbitrary denial of mail “chills the likelihood” of sending out letters, becoming yet another factor leading to the isolation of men from their friends, families and communities on the outside.
115s also continue to be issued on a regular basis for alleged gang-related communications, for talking to others in the law library, in the yard or on the way to a shower. One person reported that he does not go to the yard or law library because he fears false allegations of partaking in gang-activity by association.
According to men that have been in both PBSP General Population and the SHU, the mail service in the SHU is significantly worse. Outgoing letters to loved ones and others, as well as time sensitive legal papers, are not reaching their destination in a reasonable amount of time, and often not at all.
Individuals are sometimes not even informed their outgoing mail is blocked. One individual reported that he had no idea that his outgoing letters were being blocked until he finally received a postcard from his family asking why he had not been writing.
There has also reportedly been an increase in the denial of incoming mail. Often men are not informed of the confiscated letters, though they are supposed to receive a mail-stop notice. The “13 oz rule” for packages, which was not previously enforced, is now being enforced suddenly and without explanation. Several men have had their incoming mail returned for this reason.
IGI has been readily issuing mail-related 115s for alleged “gang-activity”. IGI frequently claims that certain addresses are connected to a gang. Men are denied letters from family members who are labeled as gang associates by IGI. In one report, a man received a 115 based on a letter from his elementary-aged daughter. IGI claimed that there was a coded message within her letter. (He 602d the 115 and it was dropped.) (See section on 115s for more on mail-related violations.)
One reported that he had a money order denied because the money, received from a pen pal who had won the money gambling, legally, was classified as “funds from an illicit source.” Another man reported that his money order was held for months, when it should have been deposited into his account right away. Another had his money order returned because it allegedly came from a gang-related address.
LACK OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
The majority of incarcerated individuals with whom we meet and correspond express a strong desire to engage in educational activities. Despite it being common knowledge that education expands ones’ mind and contributes to the rehabilitation of troubled individuals, as well as key to success upon release from prison, the opportunities are scarce, to say the least. There are a limited number of people in SHU that are permitted to participate in educational programs, reportedly due to lack of funds and understaffing. Sometimes approval is based on release date, and lifers are given the lowest priority.
Most educational programs available to men at PBSP cost money, and those that are free are often full. Requests to enroll in college courses are met with either unreasonable delays or no response at all. Even AA and NA materials are difficult to acquire, making it a challenge for participants to work the 12 Steps. One individual, while housed in Ad-Seg, was permitted to attend a group/class, but would have been required to do a strip search each and every time he went to class. As a result he chose not to participate. Other prisoners eager to take college classes are unable to enroll because he has no ability to obtain a copy of his birth certificate or documentation of California residency.
A GED course is offered to SHU inmates, though it is unreliable and slow due to long delays. Most students have no access to an actual teacher or tutor. Homework can be submitted through prison mail, for feedback. There are reportedly many obstacles to accessing proctored exams. Exams that must be returned through the mail may be caught up in mail room delays, leading to an automatic fail. In Administrative Segregation (Ad. Seg. or ASU) there is no access to the GED course at all.
PBSP still refuses to provide less library time than what the other CDCR SHUs provide and less than what regulations require. See CCR § 3123(b). Computer access in the law library is also a problem. Even when men get the opportunity to get on a computer, they rarely have the skills or receive the guidance they need to complete the necessary tasks within the limited time they are permitted. “They put you in a room and say, ‘figure it out’.” Staff are reportedly unhelpful and uninterested in supporting prisoners in finding what they need.
We received a report that after the hunger strike COs retaliated against the men by liquidating their library. Many books were destroyed or removed, and though staff has reportedly begun to reassemble the library, the list of available books is much smaller now. Books ordered from catalogues, or legal cases requested from the law library, may take between one and two months to arrive, or not at all. This can have serious consequences for those working against inflexible court deadlines.
115s are issued for talking in the library. Some men who will not use the library, for fear of being written up for participating in “gang activity” if another inmate speaks to them, or if the COs think they hear something. Others are discouraged to go due to concern that their cell will be raided once they are gone.
While visits have reportedly increased for those in the Step Down Program, there has been an overall increase in the scrutiny of visitors at all California Prisons. Reports include descriptions of family members with criminal records are summarily denied visiting privileges, regardless of the nature of the crime or time since punishment was served.
Prisoners are not provided adequate notice that loved ones are coming to visit, even if the visits are scheduled. As a result, visitors are made to wait hours and visits are cut short, due to timing and capacity restrictions. This can be devastating to families who have not seen each other in years and even decades, and for family members who have saved money, taken time off work and traveled over 800 miles to visit.
In order for each inmate to receive his mandated hour and a half of yard time each day, staffneed to begin releasing men to yard between 7:15 to 7:30 a.m. Often staff “lounge around talking” until they feel like releasing yard, which is frequently after 8:00 a.m.. As a result yard time is frequently cut short for many, and the last person usually only gets a half hour. Yard is often cancelled for entire pods and blocks, due to DRB hearings, staff birthday parties, trainings and so on. If there is an incident, yard may be cancelled for everybody for the entire day.
Food is described with adjectives such as soggy, cold, spoiled, under-cooked, over-cooked, processed, artificial, tasteless, lacking anything fresh, and insufficient in quantity. Food is overly processed and has different taste or texture than natural foods, such as substitute cheeses do not melt and overly-processed peanut butter that give people cramps. The portions are small and men express waking up and going to bed hungry every day. Many substitute the meager portions with over-priced, nutritionally-lacking food from the canteen. Men drink a lot of water to help them feel full, and voice their conviction that poor quality food is used as a weapon to weaken them.
Men describe eating in their cells like eating in a bathroom.
STAFF BEHAVIOR AND MISCONDUCT
Guards continue to act with little or no accountability, behind a wall of silence. We are told that guards stand up and protect one another, even when some cross the line. One man stated, along similar lines, “The prison guard culture here is a big problem. Because of the hunger strike, some changes were made in Sacramento, but the guards have not changed. They are resistant to reforms… because it is considered to be a harsh place, where they can do what they want: Stop mail, give rule violations for innocuous things, deny mail, packages, property...”
Following are incidents that were reported to CPF. One man was sprayed with pepper spray because he was eating paper and reportedly refused to stop when the guards demanded. A serious violation was issued, (to the prisoner, not the guard) but was later dropped to a warning. Another was harassed for whistling while at yard. The guard opened and slammed his door and yelled at the man to be quiet. When the man refused, the guard went into his cell and destroyed his belongings. Another guard allegedly slammed a man’s face on the wall because he thought the man did not move close enough to the wall when other people came by in the same corridor.
Officers harass men who are involved in litigation against PBSP or CDCR with anything from the issuance of 115s, to taking their legal papers from their folders or manilla envelopes and ruffling through and disarranging them.
The so-called “random” urine tests are reportedly targeted and used as a method of retaliation as well.
One guard told a prisoner that he was dedicating his life to keeping him and others in the SHU.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
We continue to hear encouraging feedback about The Agreement To End Hostilities. Men voice their enthusiasm, saying that there is peace between groups in ways that there was not before. “Progress is being made.” Prisoners have reported that he would never have brought up issues on behalf of others from different races if it were not for the hunger strike and the growing solidarity between prisoners. He stated that they are “fighting together now” and that “everyone looks out for each other.”
Some guards continue their efforts to undermine this growing solidarity. One CO was heard saying, “I can’t believe you Mexicans are letting a black guy talk like that. You need to keep the African guy in check.”
MISCELLANEOUS REPORTS WORTH NOTING:
• The speakers in the pods are very loud, which is extremely disturbing and anxiety causing to men who are over sensitive to sounds of any volume due to extended periods of sensory deprivation.
• Relative to Corcoran and other CDCR facilities, PBSP offers the men the least amount of human interaction; it is the most isolated.
• “Potty Watch” searches continue to be practiced at PBSP. Men suspected of swallowing weapons or drugs have to undergo a cruel and humiliating contraband search procedure that lasts, at a minimum, as long as it takes the men to have three qualifying bowel movements, while being watched by at least 2 guards, which usually lasts between three and five days. Other states have far less abhorrent ways of searching for contraband, yet reportedly more effective. Potty Watch cannot be described as anything less than cruel and unusual.
• Phone privileges continue to be denied for the large majority of men in the SHU.
Jul 01, 2015
From Prison Focus Issue 46
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews with incarcerated men at California Correctional Institution Tehachapi (CCI). To prevent retaliation we have refrained from using names. All quotes are from incarcerated men at CCI.
CPF visited Tehachapi for the first time on July 10. Our visit was scheduled after we received a significant increase in the volume of mail citing poor living conditions, physical abuse, property theft, and mismanagement of the flawed Step-Down Program. Our experience moving through the Tehachapi bureaucracy had parallels to prisoners' own experiences. While some were helpful and considerate, other guards behaved in ways that could plausibly be read as oblivious, ignorant, or malicious.
The most antagonizing behavior took place in the Ad Seg unit we visited, a unit that is bafflingly austere and hostile according to men who have been held there. Things began poorly when one guard who was apparently unaware of our visit crossed her arms and insisted, "You know that means we'll have to take them out," as though it constituted not only news but surprising news. What proceeded either was a series of misunderstandings or petty and cruel behavior. Rather than informing us that a man on our visit list was no longer being held at the unit, guards brought out a man whose last name was the same as a man on our visit list. We were later told the man we wanted to visit had been moved from Ad Seg long before our arrival. The individual who had been brought out declined to speak with us, so another man on our list was brought out soon afterward. He too declined to be interviewed, saying only "They told me you were my family."
Other administrative hurdles might have been funny if they hadn't also been violations of constitutional rights. Every incarcerated person is guaranteed privacy for legal visits so that the interviewer and interviewee can speak candidly without fear of reprisal. To the credit of CCI, there are three rooms of ample size labeled as private interviewing rooms in the units we visited. Unfortunately, they were already in use as either office space or storage. If you are reading this and are unfamiliar with CCI, know that there is enough empty space within the complex for a town and a small airport; denying prisoners their right to a secure interviewing room for the sake of storage is unjustifiable.
Another notable difficulty we encountered with the guards was their persistent resistance to passing legal documents between legal interviewers and interviewees. It was surprising the guards were unfamiliar with this aspect of the law, but to their credit, they yielded after consulting their superiors.
But enough of the absurdity we encountered. We learned a lot from the incarcerated individuals we met at Tehachapi and the written correspondence of many. These developments fall within the following three categories: (1) Step-Down Program; (2) Psychological and Administrative Abuse; and (3) Sanitation.
The biggest news with respect to reform and solidarity is that prisoners at Tehachapi have stopped participating in the SDP. We have received reports of individuals who participated in implementations of the SDP at Corcoran or Pelican Bay only to find an especially chaotic version of it at CCI. Several individuals reported that until May of this year, guards were sabotaging the step down process by issuing excessive 115s for without good reason, for anything from criticizing the SDP, to being named in someone else's kite, to filing 602s for missing property, all of which could halt their progress. In one instance, an interviewee reported that he had been given a definite SHU term in spite of never being found guilty. He was informed that “when he is found guilty” he would be regressed to Step 1.
This refusal to participate in the SDP aligns the efforts of incarcerated individuals at Tehachapi with those at Corcoran and Pelican Bay. According to one interviewee, the mismanagement of the SDP and the spike in 115s drew attention from authorities in Sacramento. The interviewee sounded optimistic by their visit, as he felt the attention from outside CCI would lead to reform, regardless of how Ashker v. Brown is adjudicated in the coming months.
CPF has received a number of reports of physical abuse at Tehachapi, which were described in our last issue, #45, and the individuals who spoke to us during our visit affirmed that beatings had taken place and that prisoners have been pepper-sprayed while defenseless in their cells for not cuffing up fast enough. this kind of abuse has become much less commonplace over the course of this year, although one interviewee reported that at least in Ad Seg instances still occur and tend to target the Black population. Those we spoke to confirm that wellness checks continue to cause sleep deprivation every night.
CCI's fickle bureaucracy was a more common complaint than fear of physical mistreatment. Complaints of guards taking or 'losing' property and slow-walking requests for its return were nearly universal. One man in SHU appeared exasperated as he chronicled the many times that he requested property that guards had taken from him upon arrival at Tehachapi. Rather than having it returned, he received a 115 after filing a recent 602 on the issue. "What's the point of treating a person like that?"
Another interviewee reported that he was told his glasses had been lost just after his arrival to Tehachapi. For nine months he requested that his glasses be returned. Finally, when a new guard visited his cell and the same request was made the glasses were 'found' within minutes and returned. "You can't ever tell if they will help you or just want to fuck with you," he said.
Another universal issue was the mishandling of both incoming and outgoing mail. The general consensus was that, like everything else, mail was slow-walked, but sometimes seemed to get 'lost' entirely and never reach its destination. One prisoner claimed the contents of two letters he sent were switched, resulting in serious delay and misunderstanding.
The individuals who spoke with us also reported that access to the Law Library was infrequent and difficult. One man estimated that at least three requests must be submitted before access is granted, which translates to an average wait of 1-2 months. Programming at CCI is sparse and unreliable. The only consistent educational programming tops out at the GED level. One can register for college remotely, but according to prisoners, these courses are nearly always full.
Yard at CCI SHU and Ad Seg sounds abysmal and almost certainly constitutes a human rights violation. Rather than allowing prisoners the required one hour/day five days a week, yard is stacked in three-hour blocks. Normally, this sort of stacking is reserved for when recreation yards are available to allow for extended exercise or socializing. However, the "dog pens" that were described cannot rightly be thought of as recreation yards. Instead, these approx. 7x30 ft rooms are partially exposed kennels, with bars jutting out about a foot on the end and cement everywhere else. Prisoners are left in these for hours to bake in the Tehachapi sun without so much as a chair.
With regard to sanitation, reports were mixed. The food provided actually drew praise from some men inasmuch as it was of higher quality than at other prisons, though it was also described as cold and poorly cooked by others. Pests were not reported as a problem. One extreme instance of unsanitary conditions was described wherein a toilet clogged and ran over, filling a cell with sewage. CCI guards allegedly placed meals on the floor in the sewage for days before making the needed repair.
As we prepare this newsletter, our general sense is that Tehachapi has come under increased pressure due to its mismanagement. Incarcerated individuals generally describe conditions as having improved, but there are still considerable human rights abuses that must be rectified. The atmosphere of the prison is ambiguous. Some guards genuinely seemed interested in our work and helpful, or they were at least disinterested enough not to make things unnecessarily difficult. However, our experiences in Ad Seg led us to believe that at any moment one could encounter a guard at random who decided it was their turn to exact some small bit of bureaucratic vengeance and ruin not only a day or a week, but months of work and planning for no reason whatsoever.
Jul 01, 2015
keywords: Ashker v. Brown, Departmental Review Boards, Step Down Progam
From Prison Focus Issue 46
Note: This report is substantiated through approximately sixty in-person interviews conducted within the past four months, and through correspondence received by Prison Focus during that same period. Information gleaned from a July visit to Tehachapi (CCI) is not incorporated herein, due Prison Focus's publishing deadlines. As usual, the names of interviewees and correspondents have been replaced with anonymous designations.
As we reported in Issue #45, earlier this year the plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown* requested leave from the court to file a supplementary complaint. Judge Claudia Wilken issued an order granting their request on March 9, allowing class representatives who were transferred to other SHUs after spending ten or more years in Pelican Bay's SHU to remain in the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File a Supplementary Complaint, we further reported, was sought to preempt the CDCR's cynical effort to get around the lawsuit by moving people with ten years or more in Pelican Bay's SHU—parties to the first cause of action for cruel and unusual punishment, aka the Eighth Amendment class —to other SHUs.
In May 2012, when the First Amended Complaint in Ashker v. Brown was filed, over 500 individuals in Pelican Bay's SHU had been there for at least ten years. By the end of January 2015, only 213 remained. According to members of Plaintiffs' litigation team, just eighty-six such individuals were still left at Pelican Bay as of early July.
Judge Wilken's March 9 order and Plaintiffs' Supplementary Complaint will result in two trials, as we explained in Issue #45. This is assuming, of course, that no settlement occurs (more on the topic of settlement will be said in a moment). During the first trial, the court will determine among other things whether confining a person to the SHU at Pelican Bay constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th and 14th Amendments. If Plaintiffs prevail on that issue, the court will determine through a second trial whether confining a person to Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more, then transferring that person to another SHU, also constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS AROUND ASHKER V. BROWN
The latest round of settlement discussions has been underway for many weeks and it's possible that a settlement could be reached, or not, before the end of this month. Although the discussions are confidential, the litigation team has generally indicated that they've been substantive, serious and far-reaching.
In view of negotiations with the CDCR, Plaintiffs have held off on filing a motion for summary judgment. That motion specifically relates to the second cause of action in Ashker, claiming lack of due process under the 14th Amendment. If successful, it would void as unconstitutional the six-year active/inactive review process, hence all validations of the Due Process class in Ashker.
In a noteworthy development running parallel to the settlement talks, on July 6, Plaintiffs in Lopez v. Brown (No. C 15–2725 YGR, N.D. Cal. 2015) filed a motion to relate their case to Ashker. The motion is currently pending before Judge Claudia Wilken. Lopez v. Brown challenges the conditions of confinement at San Quentin's Adjustment Center on essentially on the same constitutional grounds as Ashker. In the event that Plaintiffs' Motion to Relate is granted, it appears that Lopez would be reassigned to Wilken rather than the current judge, Yvonne Gonzales Roger.
What a settlement in Ashker could portend overall is up in the air until and unless a settlement is announced. However, it appears that those with ten-plus years in Pelican Bay's SHU continue to be prioritized for case-by-case (CBC) reviews by the Departmental Review Board (DRB). The filing of Plaintiffs' Supplemental Complaint, and the expansion the Eight Amendment class to include people shipped to other SHUs following prolonged confinement at the Bay, does not seem to have altered the DRB's demonstrated pattern.
As of February 20, 2015, according to the CDCR, 1070 reviews had been completed system-wide, with another 1600 left to go. Since the CBC reviews** were initiated in late October 2012, this averages out to about 38.2 reviews per month for a period of roughly twenty-eight months. We don't have confirmation of how many reviews have taken place since February. But, assuming that 38.2 reviews per month were also completed in each of the five or so months intervening between then and early July, another 191 reviews would have been completed during that period. Of those 191 reviews, about 66% of them would have involved men at Pelican Bay with ten-plus years in the SHU. (This is based on information provided in paragraph three of this article to the effect that, between February and July, the numbers of men at Pelican Bay with ten-plus years in the SHU was reduced from 213 to eighty-six; a difference of 127.)
SLUGGISH PACE OF CBC REVIEWS: NO RELIEF IN SIGHT
As discussed in Issue #45, the CDCR claimed in February that two new DRB reviewing teams would be trained and would focus on Corcoran and Tehachapi. The addition of two new teams to the two existing teams, which are respectively headed by Susan Hubbard and George Giarbino, would ostensibly increase capacity to conduct reviews. But if any new teams are out in the field, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition's mediation team has not heard about it. Neither has anybody inside informed us or suggested to us that any new teams are up and running, either.
People who've been left to languish for up to twenty-four hours per day in cramped concrete-and-steel cages, often enduring torture for years to decades on end, should not have to indefinitely wait to simply go before the DRB. This is an intolerable abuse of internationally recognized standards of human rights and an affront to human decency.
Moreover, as we reported in Issue #45, most captives in the SHUs don't belong there according to the CDCR's own (exceedingly loose) standards. Departmental data have repeatedly born out that, of those who are receiving CBC reviews, nearly three-quarters of them are being placed in Step 5. This means that they are being placed on the mainline for a one-year observation period, wherever relevant Title 15 regulations are being adhered to. The nearly three-quarters percentage held true as February 20, the last time this writer is aware that any data were provided. This affirms the spirit and substance of the Five Core Demands issued in 2011 by incarcerated activists, exhorting against capricious and arbitrary placement and retention in the SHU. Segregation should only be used as a last resort, the Demands emphasize. (The Five Core Demands can be accessed at https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/the-prisoners-demands-2/ )
Many of our interviewees have offered the observation that the DRB is currently only reviewing the cases of "Step 5-ready" people, and/or those up for six-year active/inactive reviews under former rules. Yet, as discussed above, the CDCR reported on February 20 that 1070 CBC reviews had been completed, with some 1600 reviews still to go. Forty percent of all CBC reviews had been completed, in other words. So, if nearly three-quarters of those who've been reviewed have been placed in Step 5, appearances may be deceiving where it comes to whose cases are currently being reviewed.
DELAYS ON TOP OF DELAYS
As CBC reviews continue to glacially proceed, our interviewees and correspondents inside indicate that significant delays are ongoing even after people have seen the DRB and have been placed in steps.
At Pelican Bay in March, Mr. B reported that two individuals had respectively waited forty-six and fifty days to be transferred after being placed in Step 5. (Mr. B himself had not yet seen the DRB.) Mr. O reported more extreme waits— up to six months—for those in queue to get on a bus to Corcoran or Tehachapi. Mr. Q mentioned that people in his pod who'd been placed in Steps 3–5 two to three months earlier had still not been transferred. He'd been told before the first of the year that he was sixth on the list for DRB reviews, but said he'd been "bumped" each month since and had heard nothing recently.
Others determined to be inactive by Internal Gang Investigation (IGI) personnel, pursuant to six-year active/inactive reviews, are kept in limbo because the DRB has not gotten to them yet. Several interviewees or correspondents from two different SHUs have stated or strongly indicated that they are in this situation. Moreover, in July, Mr. XX informed us in writing that, out of about fifty people found inactive at Pelican Bay's SHU, thirty were waiting to receive DRB reviews. Twenty had been seen in absentia, he specified, but the DRB wanted to see the remainder in person.
How long any of these people have been waiting we don't know. Mr. RR, who's currently in inactive purgatory, said that a friend in like circumstances waited a year before he was finally transferred. In any event, the 2015 Department Operations Manual outlines the following procedure and requirements, at p. 399:
If it has been determined by the IGI that the inmate has had no gang activity for a period of six (6) years, the IGI shall submit a request to the SSU [Special Services Unit] to change the inmate’s status to “inactive.” If the SSU concurs with the IGI’S recommended gang status change, a new CDC Form 128B-2 shall be issued identifying the inmate as an “inactive” member/associate. Upon issuing a new CDC Form 128B-2 identifying the inmate as “inactive,” the DRB shall be notified by the housing institution. At its convenience, but not to exceed 180 days, the DRB shall meet and consider the inmate for placement in a level IV, 180 design housing unit [non-SHU maximum-security unit] for a period of observation. At the DRB’S discretion, the inmate may be transferred to a level IV, 180 design institution.
Granted that the only time limit explicitly spelled out above is the 180-day time period within which the DRB has to meet after receiving notification.
IN ABSENTIA REVIEWS
As stated above, Mr. XX informed us of twenty people at the Bay who'd received DRB "reviews" in absentia.
Mr. PP at Corcoran reported that he found out his case had been "reviewed" in absentia, without any notice to him that a review would be occurring. This was in 2013. One day the IGI came to his door wanting to talk to him, without explaining why. So, he declined the invitation. Two weeks later he received a notice regarding a "post-DRB" review. He was told that the DRB folks had been there and left because he "refused to come out" of his cell. It was then that he realized that he'd never gotten notice of the DRB review.
Only an idiot would refuse to see that DRB, he added.
During his "post-DRB" review Mr. PP learned he'd been placed in Step 2 and was asked to sign a Step Down contract. Taking the contract as an admission of gang-related activity, he declined. He was therefore regressed to Step 1, and there he remains, after spending more than ten years in Corcoran's SHU.
To be clear, the highest level of internal review that a person in the CDCR's custody can receive is review by the DRB. The DRB is a Secretary-level board; the Secretary of the CDCR being the highest official with the Department. (A DRB team is comprised of a Deputy Director or Assistant Deputy Director of the Division of Adult Institutions, and Chief of the Classification Services Unit). A decision made by the DRB is not subject to administrative appeal and can only be challenged by directly going to court.
That reviews are occurring—are allowed to occur—in absentia at the highest level available is outrageous, and evinces that lack of even minimal due process that those held in the CDCR's torture chambers have access to.
RETALIATION AGAINST CERTAIN INDIVIDUALS
More than thirty-five years ago, Mr. VV purportedly was involved in a riot at an out-of-state prison during which a guard was killed. He was later transferred to the CDCR in the mid '90s at the request of the state incarcerating him. Since that time, he's spent about twenty-one consecutive years in two different SHUs. Mr. VV sent us a detailed account of his history in segregated housing, and included with his letter documentation from the DRB, the IGI and the Institution Classification Committee (the highest level committee within a given California prison, abbreviated ICC).
In late 2012, Mr. VV 's case was considered by the DRB. His minimal disciplinary history while in CDCR custody and in the SHU was noted on a contemporaneously issued Form 128-G, aka Classification Chronology, as was the lack of information supporting "any degree of leadership or influence" with others. Indeed, Mr. VV had received but a single Rules Violation Report since being put in the CDCR's custody, for participating in a mass hunger strike in 2011.
Mr. VV's exemplary record aside, the DRB cited during its 2012 review his "involvement" in the aforementioned riot—he was scarcely an adult when it occurred—as a "concern." The Board therefore recommended his transfer to another prison as a "gradual step-down measure," claiming that he however "requested retention" where he was. These things are recorded on the aforementioned Form 128-G, which the DRB signed off on.
The same form also shows that the Classification Services Unit (CSU) independently recommended to the DRB that Mr. VV be transferred as a gradual step-down measure"—and at the inmate's request. To further complicate things, the form chronicles the DRB's 2001 application of "the administrative determinate PUB," which designates a public interest case, to Mr. VV's case. The DRB "removed" this designation in 2003, according to the official narrative. However, the narrative simultaneously avers that, during Mr. VV's 2012 review, the CSU brought up the fact that Mr. VV's name was still on the monthly PUB list. This was approximately nine years later after Mr. VV should have been removed from the list!
It's is possible that all of this is the result of astounding bureaucratic bungling or ineptitude, but more likely it reveals good cop-bad cop tactics used to disguise retaliation. In the alternative, or in addition to evincing good cop-bad-cop tactics, it could point to internal tensions between the CSU and the Division of Adult Institutions. Whatever it comes down to, it's Mr. VV who pays the price in a dungeon.
Mr. VV was eventually transferred 2013. Yet, his letter to Prison Focus did not mention that he'd since been placed in a step. After the transfer, an ICC official claimed, on a second Form 128G, that he'd refused to sign an Advisement of Expectations regarding Security Threat Groups. The official recommended that he be returned to the DRB within two years of his previous review in late 2012. According to Mr. VV, the latter DRB appointment never happened.
Mr. EE's history, as he recounted it in an interview, is somewhat similar. He told us in June that he was implicated some years ago in an incident between staff and prisoners at one state prison. In the aftermath, he was sent to Ad Seg (Administration Segregation) at a different prison and given an indeterminate SHU sentence. It appears that he was concurrently validated. Within the past year or thereabout—the timeline he provided was uncertain—the IGI found that there was no evidence linking him to any gang/Security Threat Group. He added that he'd had no Rules Violation Reports for about five years. Despite having gone before the DRB, he did not mention that he'd been placed in any step. It was the sense of the attorney-representative who interviewed him that he was still waiting for some type of decision; for a date to move out of the SHU, or to at least be placed into a step.
Mr. BBB said in July that he was "not eligible" for the Step Down Program (SDP). He is validated with an indeterminate sentence, but did not specify why he considered himself ineligible. That stated, we are aware from current and past interviews that Mr. BBB has filed more than one viable lawsuit against the Department. In addition, he has suffered well-documented incidents of physical abuse by guards, and was criminally and unfairly prosecuted relative to an assault on staff. Officers' reports of the assault, which he provided to Prison Focus, did not support a prosecution.
PEOPLE RETURNING TO SHU AND/OR BEING REGRESSED TO EARLIER STEPS
Between March and July, we received numerous reports of people being placed in Step 5 (ostensibly being placed on the mainline for a one-year observation period) then being returned to SHU, or otherwise being regressed to earlier steps after being place in Steps 2–4.
Several of these reports have been quite specific in the details. Others have been not so specific.
Here is a summary of some of the general reports that we've received:
• SDP is a "revolving door" with no merit because the intelligence is not transparent
• They're "recycling" people.
• A sergeant comes into your unit and says loudly, so that all can hear, that guards should write people up for any little thing they can find. This is retaliation, and a way to move people steps back, so they stay at the SHU.
• People in Step 5 don't last. They get in trouble and go back. Officers are on them a lot and their property is taken.
• Officers plant drugs or weapons in a person's cell.
• Those newly released to the yard are getting beaten up, or are seen talking to someone they have not seen in decades. They therefore get written up for fighting or for “conspiracy," which sends them back into the SHU.
• Staff provokes people who get off the bus when they arrive to a new prison. Staff harasses and physically intrudes upon them, in an attempt to get a rise.
• When you're out on the mainline, they assume you are running yard and are
dropping kites and notes.
• The IGI revalidates those in Step 5 for being mentioned in a kite or note.
• The IGI accuses those in people of having mail from an illegitimate sender. People so accused get written up for association and are regressed to an earlier step.
• The IGI takes pictures of guys before they leave for the mainline. The IGI then circulate the pictures to informants, who are instructed to keep a watch on and try and get information on those just let out.
SPEAKING OF INFORMANTS…
This won't come as a surprise to most readers, but our interviewees report that information supplied by confidential informants frequently comes up during DRB reviews.
Title15 hasn't been amended to exclude this type of information, which countervails the Five Core Demands. The Demands denounce the practice of debriefing and the extortion of flimsy or false information from desperate prisoners eager to earn points with their captors and torturers. They also denounce the CDCR's general use of superficial abstracted information to put people in the SHU or retain them there.
As to how the DRB is typically treating information supplied by confidential informants, opinions from inside are mixed. What is clear, though, is the resentment universally engendered by the reliance of CDCR personnel on such information.
For readers new to this topic, information from confidential informants is recorded on a Form 1030, aka a Confidential Informant Disclosure Form. Form 1030s go into a prisoner's central file, yet the prisoner is kept ignorant of specific contents and has no opportunity for meaningful rebuttal.
We've heard a lot from our interviewees and correspondents in recent months about the DRB process and the SDP; too much to be covered or coherently synthesized in one issue. (As if anything is ever coherent where it comes to the CDCR.) But we include below some observations from those inside that don't neatly fall into earlier portions of this article.
Mr. FF emphasizes that, after the CBC review by the DRB, any new hearings are in front of the local classification committee; the same people [assuming that you've not been transferred to another prison] who have kept you where you are.
Mr. TT raises a subject—the COMPAS Assessment—that Prison Focus has not heard much about lately, although we covered it at length in ##42–44. According to Mr. TT, who we spoke with in June at Corcoran, CDCR personnel are attempting to extort folks to complete the COMPAS Assessment by telling them, "If you don't complete it, we won't take you to committee." Another threat used is the threat of a Rules Violation Report.
Under the 2007 Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Service Act, data collected by the CDCR through COMPAS or similar assessments "shall be used to place inmates in programs that will aid in their reentry to society and that will most likely reduce the inmate's chances of reoffending." We have no way of knowing if information collected through the COMPAS Assessment is in fact being so used, but we do know that it goes into peoples' central files. We also know that the questions on the COMPAS Assessment are incredibly intrusive in nature, as well as self- and/or other-incriminating. In past issues, we provided examples of many of the questions.
Mr. E says that the majority of new people admitted into Ad Seg at Pelican Bay are coming from Corcoran. (We've received reports that, in the converse, many people arriving at Corcoran are coming from the Bay.) They're accused of being "associates of associates" of people validated as gang/security threat group affiliates, Mr. E elaborates. Some come for Step Down; some come because of initial validations. The latter make up the majority, in his estimation. Ad Seg is treated like a reception center from which up to twenty at a time are moved into the SHU.
Mr. ZZ is in Step 3 at Corcoran. He very much appreciates his group's facilitator and seems optimistic overall about the SDP. On the other hand, he considers the steps are far too long. And, like most everybody we've heard from over the past year or so, he objects to the journaling requirements required in Steps 1 and 2.
Prison Focus discussed these journaling requirements in detail in past issues, ##43–45. The journals issued have insinuating if not outright insulting titles and pose highly intrusive and leading questions that some have fairly categorized as "set-up" questions or debriefing questions. Mr. ZZ regards them as being calculated to dissuade people from participating in the SDP.
Mr. ZZ remains positive about the SDP despite misgivings, but his sense is that most officers are violently against it. During a July interview, he described with particularity and vividness a couple of incidents substantiating his perception about resistance from staff. He also talked about how one sympathetic person otherwise aligned with the state noted the fear that the IGI and others have about losing their jobs, on account of the SDP and other changes. At the same time, Mr. ZZ faults Sacramento for falling down on the job. Certain officers opposed to the SDP have complained that they've received inadequate information about or training on the program. He wonders why the CDCR isn't looking for or identifying officers who want to support the program and participate in it on the tiers.
Apr 15, 2015
keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board, Case-by-Case Reviews
From Prison Focus Issue 45
This supplemental report substantiates through in-person interviews and correspondence four key findings:
1) The pace of the reviews remains sluggish as CDCR has only had two qualified persons to chair DRB reviewing teams since the inception of case-by-case reviews in October of 2012. CDCR officials informally reported in February that they plan to add two more individuals who can also chair DRB teams, and that these additions should speed up the process. Be that as it may, it's unconscionable that men who are likely to be released from solitary confinement upon review—after being subjected to inhumane conditions for years or decades on end—have been indefinitely waiting in SHU just to go before DRB. There is no excuse for CDCR's bureaucratic moroseness. Justice delayed is justice denied.
2) The pattern of case-by-case (CBC) reviews, when and where they take place, is being cynically driven by the Ashker v. Brown lawsuit. CDCR's demonstrated intent is to render that case moot by moving men who've been caged in Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more to the other SHUs—that is, to reduce and eventually eliminate the class of plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown who are party to the cause of action brought under the 8th and 14th Amendments (Cruel and Unusual Punishment). This violates the spirit of those who participated in the recent hunger strikes and demanded, among other things, an end to CDCR's administrative abuses and debriefing policies. It also violates the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the US and its subjugate territories are signatories.
3) CDCR continues to pressure individuals to enter the debriefing program at penalty of remaining in the SHU. In one recent case, CDCR decided to hold a person who'd refused to debrief in the SHU, citing nebulous security concerns as a justification. This was despite an earlier DRB finding that there was no reason to hold this person in the SHU any longer.
4) Linked to the previous item, we are receiving indications from various sources that several men have qualified for transfer directly to Step 5 (monitored status within the general population), but are being retained in SHU due to alleged security concerns. This is especially true where confidential informants are involved in raising security concerns. Under existing regulations, there's generally no way to corroborate such concerns or to ensure that they're being adequately investigated if at all. Hence, the status quo constitutes a continued abridgment of due-process rights.
The information that follows herein is based on:
-Interviews conducted with about two-dozen individuals at Pelican Bay SHU and at Corcoran SHU (respectively, in late December 2014 and in late February 2015)
-Information supplied by members of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), including members of the mediation and legal teams.
-Letters recently sent to CPF by those in the SHUs.
Random letters (italicized) are used herein instead of names to identify sources inside so as to guard those sources' anonymity.
Ashker v. Brown is driving DRB priorities: Pelican Bay is the focal point, not movement out of SHU
In August 2013, Michael Stainer, then Director of CDCR's Division of Adult Institutions, said that STG associates with the earliest validation dates would be prioritized for CBC reviews. By now, CDCR practice has revealed a clear alternative priority, as indicated above: The focus is to conduct CBC reviews of those people who have been at Pelican Bay SHU for the longest amount of time. DRB's George Giurbino corroborated this as much during deposition in December. This has resulted in many being transferred from Pelican Bay, often to other SHUs. CDCR has therby succeeded in vastly reducing the numbers of class members party to the first cause of action (Cruel and Unusual Punishment) in Ashker v. Brown. When the plaintiffs thereto filed their Second Amended Complaint back in May 2012, an estimated 500+ people held in Pelican Bay's SHU had been there for over ten years (based on CDCR's own statistics for 2011). As of January 31, 2015, only 213 people remained in that category compared, to 232 for the previous month. Many of these men, however, were not let out of SHU, but simply transferred to other SHUs. By end of February, a little over 200 remained so classified at Pelican Bay.
Due to this practice of SHU-shuffling, the plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown recently petitioned the court to expand the class action to those who have been transferred out of Pelican Bay and placed in other institutions. The majority of those transferred out of Pelican Bay have been sent to Tehachapi (CCI)—where conditions are reportedly even worse than those at Pelican Bay (see, e.g., the Tehachapi Report included in Issue #44 of this publication). Oral argument on was heard on February 12. Although a written decision from Judge Claudia Wilken is forthcoming, she did rule from the bench in favor of expanding the class. This judgment will result in a bifurcated trial; i.e., two trials. The first is set for December 2015, whereupon it will be decided whether confining a person to the SHU at Pelican Bay constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. If the plaintiffs prevail, the court will decide during a second trial (in 2016) whether confining a person to Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more, then transferring that person to another SHU, also constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
According to one PHSS legal team member, almost 900 people remain in the Due Process class (14th Amendment), according to statistics for February. This class consists of those men at Pelican Bay's SHU who were validated under regulations formerly in place under California Code of Regulations, Title 15, and have yet to receive a DRB CBC review. The length of time spent at Pelican Bay doesn't matter. The Due Process class increased by four people between January 31 and the previous month. Thus, it seems that CDCR is moving people who've not yet received DRB reviews into Pelican Bay's SHU, from other SHUs or from Administrative Segregation.
In their recent meeting with CDCR on February 20, the PHSS mediation team was told that 1,070 CBC reviews had been completed, and about 1600 remained. Of the 1,070 who received reviews, about 72.5% (776 total) had been placed in Step 5, whereas the other 294 had been placed in Steps 1–4. These statistics evince the legitimacy of one of the prisoners' five demands: that SHU only be used as a last resort. If over 70% of them men in SHU have been qualified for general population, with CDCR reporting few if any problems of post-SHU release adjustment, then the SHU hasn't been (and continues not to be) used as a last resort.
CDCR further told the mediation team that they plan to complete the CBC reviews by December 2015. At present, only two DRB teams handle all reviews, each headed by Susan Hubbard or George Giurbino. However, CDCR says that two new teams are currently being trained and will focus on Corcoran and Tehachapi. The current wardens at Wasco State Prison and Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)—respectively, Deborah Johnson and Jon Katavich—will lead these new teams. These additional teams will allegedly increase CDCR capacity to do the CBC reviews.
Members of the PHSS mediation team, including CPF volunteers, complained about the low number of teams since 2012. They consider the refusal to implement additional teams until now as a violation of the men's basic rights not to be held in SHUs indefinitely and without due process—especially in light of the fact that the great majority of them will be released to general population.
News from Pelican Bay SHU
Mr. A told us, "The way I see it, it's a con game. They got the biggest con game in there." He has already heard that people who have gone to the DRB or have been deemed inactive are coming back from the mainline (general population), and cited two specific examples. The same holds true, he indicated, for those who have successfully challenged their validations under the Castillo settlement.
Mr. A was placed in Step 3 some time ago and was almost regressed to Step 2 when he refused transfer to Tehachapi. His refusal was primarily due to medical concerns. "Why would I want to go from bad to worse?" he rhetorically asked when discussing his situation. A lot of men just want to "get the hell out" of Pelican Bay, he added—noting that when they see how bad the alternatives are, they may reconsider. In his own case, he asked to be transferred to New Folsom rather than Tehachapi and ultimately was not regressed to Step 2.
Mr. B had his active/inactive review in mid February 2014. While he was in the shower the around the time of his review, his cell was searched—as were the cells of two others on his tier who were not up for review. Mr. B speculated that IGI (Institution Gang Investigation Unit) perhaps thought the latter two were holding something for him. One IGI officer told him that they were conducting random cell searches. Another told Mr. B, "No, we're doing your active/inactive review." The search slip he received cited that the reason for the search was his active/inactive review.
In July 2014, IGI did another search of Mr. B's cell, again saying that they were conducting his active/inactive review. He told IGI that he thought he had already received it. They told him, "No, that was something else." This time they came up with a validation point, based on Mr. B having records of some other peoples' birth dates in his cell. He filed an administrative grievance (602) and as of late December was waiting for his final appeal decision from Sacramento. He contends that the theory used by IGI to deem him an active STG (Security Threat Group or prison gang) member is unsupported by the evidence. For example, no inmate ID numbers or anything else in the documentation shows that the persons cited by the IGI for the purpose of affirming association are who the IGI says they are. In addition, no evidence shows points to any Security Threat Group/gang-related conduct, he said.
Mr. C reported that he's been on inactive status since May 2014. He met with the DRB in November 2014, and was told that he would be placed in Step 5 and go to the mainline. When we spoke with him, he had been waiting to be transferred for some seven weeks, and noted that others had only waited four weeks. Again, CPF finds such wait times in solitary confinement due to inept management to be a clear violation of basic human and legal rights.
Mr. D, who at the time of our interview with him was not in the SHU but on the mainline, indicated that a lot of people who had supported the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) had been kicked down to his yard. Why these latter men remain at Pelican Bay, as opposed to being transferred to a different institution, is not clear.
Mr. E discussed new guidelines released three weeks prior to CPF's visit: If somebody is placed on “inactive” status, he will go to the Internal Classifications Committee (ICC), which, Mr. E noted, is less desirable than appearing before the DRB. The ICC tends to be less impartial and part of an institution-specific operation, he explained. Mr. E has been in the SHU for around twenty-five years, and therefore didn't understand how others were receiving CBC reviews ahead of him.
Mr. F observed that that, although CDCR approved the SDP, "they don't even know if it works." (Implicit in his words was that the SDP had been rubber-stamped.) He was supposed to have his active/inactive review in February 2014, but it got postponed until September 2014—two days before his parole date, it just so happened. He was given a six-year denial, he said, but he was supposed to get a four-year denial, like others who were validated around the same time as he. He filed a 602 on this issue up to the third level, but Sacramento denied his appeal.
Mr. G was placed in Step 5 and was consequently released from Pelican Bay's SHU on inactive monitored status. He was then transferred to Kern State Prison. His yard, he reported in a letter, is full of gregarious people—many of whom, like himself, have recently been returned to the mainline from the SHU. Otherwise, there is no program to speak of. One can have a microwave in one's cell, or purchase a tablet computer, but that's as far as it goes. (The tablets appear to be e-readers preloaded withVoluntary Educational Program (VEP) materials, including remedial education and GED materials, and materials relating to self-help programs [AA, Anger Management, etc.]. This is indicated by information available through CDCR's website.)
NEWS FROM CORCORAN
Two people at Corcoran commended Susan Hubbard—one of the two people currently leading the two DRB teams, as earlier discussed herein—for rejecting weak evidence in the course of conducting CBC reviews. (In contrast, Mr. A at Pelican Bay mentioned that a St. Paddy's card he had hanging on his wall for year had been construed as evidence of "gang activity" at his DRB review. He did not say who headed the team handling his case.)
Mr. H reported agreement amongst the men at Corcoran to participate in the widely loathed aspect of the Step-Down Program that requires the completion of numerous so-called self-directed journals. (Issue ## 43 and 44 of this publication detail the make-up of these journals. Some have insulting and/or presumptuous titles such as "The Con Game," "Thinking Errors," "Criminal Lifestyles," and "Reviewing my Drug Use.") Mr. H is not himself in favor of completing the journals, but is going along with it for the sake of solidarity with the mens' collective decision to do so.
On a separate note, Mr. H reported that people placed in Step 2 at Corcoran have access to a new programming opportunity: a book club. The book club includes three other men and a staff person (?), Ms. Done, besides Mr. H. Ms. Done asked an officer by the name of Bailey—who apparently heads the implementation of Step-Down at Corcoran and apparently "chaperones" the book club—if men participating in the club could receive certificates for doing so. (Such certificates help when the men go up for parole). She did this in front of the group participating in the book club. Bailey denied the request, but stated that the participation of individuals would be noted in their central files.
Mr. H estimated that around 90% of those validated at Corcoran are still waiting for DRB reviews. In his area, he reported, he knew of just two people who were placed in Step 1, two people who were placed in Step 3, two people who were placed in Step 4, and four others who were placed in Step 2. To his knowledge, DRB will next be visiting Corcoran in April.
Mr. J told us that, as a result of his 2013 DRB CBC review (he was one of the first to receive one), it was determined that evidence used to revalidate him in 2010, pursuant to his six-year inactive review, didn't substantiate gang activity. The DRB concluded that there was no reason to hold him in the SHU any longer. Yet, confidential informant information suggested that he had a security concern--i.e., that others wanted to hurt him, for events going back to 1996. The DRB decision was to retain him in SHU for another year, but during this time, the IGI was supposed to investigate and determine if security concerns remained valid. Mr. J. claimed that IGI interviewed nobody, but filed a report saying that since they found no new evidence to discredit security concerns, they remained valid.
In anticipation of a follow-up DRB hearing in November 2014, Mr. J submitted letters of support from his family and other materials in October. He has been free of write-ups since 2007. However, the DRB didn't come in November. At first he was told that the teams busy doing reviews at Pelican Bay, and he could expect his follow-up DRB in January. January came and went with no review. Upon inquiry with his counselor in February, Mr. J learned that a DRB decision was reached in his case in Sacramento in absentia. The decision was to retain him in SHU for another 24 months. Mr. J was then asked to enter the debriefing program. He refused. This refusal was noted on his paperwork and it was recommended that he continue in SHU due to security concerns.
Mr. J happens to be a successful litigant who in the past won a significant settlement against CDCR for guard misconduct. Thus, this case has the clear appearance of retaliation. Furthermore, CDCR has put him in a Catch-22 situation. The only way he can prove that he does not have security concerns is to associate with other supposed STG members or associates. But if he associates with them in any way, this will be misconstrued as gang activity and he will be revalidated. This situation further exemplifies the lack of due process otherwise remarked upon herein.
Mr. K affirmed that although CDCR claims many men are placed in Step 5, many of these same individuals remain in the SHU.
Mar 07, 2015
keywords: Sleep Deprivation, Directors Review Board, Security Threat Group, Step Down Program
From Prison Focus Issue 45
The most important issues the men were facing at Corcoran have to do with the slowness of the Director's Review Board (DRB) case by case reviews, placement in Step Down Program (SDP), and ongoing problems with due process around Security Threat Group (STG) validation. Most of these items are covered in a separate report on DRB and SDP in the same issue on page 2.
Beyond the report cited above, we reiterate in this report that today many men remain locked in SHU who have been validated as members or associates of Security Threat Groups (STGs) based on false evidence. Nearly four years after the first hunger strike, these men are still waiting to have their cases reviewed by the new criteria that will most likely put them in Step 5 of the Step Down Program (72% of all those reviewed are placed directly into Step 5). That CDCR has been so slow to review their cases under the excuses of wanting to ensure they are done right, or that it takes a long time to train other individuals to do the reviews. These excuses are flat out appalling and unacceptable. In addition, Corcoran interviewees expressed concern that most of the action on the case by case reviews was occurring at Pelican Bay due to the hunger strikes originating there and the on-going lawsuit on SHU conditions there (Ashker v. Governor of California). Individuals with whom we spoke note that items found in other men's cells (over which they have no control) as well as political literature that raises consciousness about racism, classism, slave-like conditions, etc. (George Jackson, Malcom X, cultural drawings) are still retaining some men in SHU today. This occurrence is inexcusable, and CDCR cannot hide behind the excuse of "we're going as fast as we can" when they certainly had the opportunity to train others to the reviews years ago. The continued torture of 24/7 housing in solitary confinement is what hangs in the balance here.
A major complaint we heard was about the lack of real mental or physical health care. With respect to mental health, one man told us that the psychologists are not there to help you, but just to say that they are doing their job. He said they transfer counselors in and out so fast, and then one has to start all over again to tell one's story and go through all of the issues one is dealing with. He is getting tired of starting from scratch over and over again.
We heard several stories of men collapsing, going man down, and subsequently being rushed to the hospital to be cared for. One man was allowed a wheel chair and a desk while he was in ACH (Acute Care Hospital at Corcoran), but now that he is back in SHU he is allowed neither. This makes it very difficult for him to be mobile in his cell, on the one hand, or to sit and write, on the other. His current wheelchair is in bad shape, but he is afraid to ask for another one out of fear of retaliation.
With respect to physical health, the common complaint was lack of pain medication, especially for those with documented chronic pain conditions. The men told us that their individual physicians will order pain medication, but that the chief medical officer denies the request. Most often the CMO will allege that the men are faking their pain in order to abuse drugs. In the cases of the individuals with whom we spoke, however, their chronic pain has been medically documented. They suspect that cost savings may also be behind the denials. A couple of individuals with whom we spoke were clearly in pain at the time of the interview. Although they have different ailments, each basically approaches each day as a challenge in terms of getting through their chronic and severe pain. One man has returned at least five times to his doctor who prescribes pain medications for him, only to have them canceled later. This interviewee was told that he would have to be seen by the pain committee, but he has been waiting over a year and still has no date for such a meeting.
Another man had special insoles for shoes confiscated from his cell in 2011. The insoles helped to relieve some of his pain, but he has not been able to get new ones. He often does not go to yard because the guards mishandle him, pushing and shoving in ways that aggravate his chronic pain condition. Often the guards suggests that the men are either lying or exaggerating about their ailments.
SHOWERS AND UNSANITARY CONDITIONS
Related to medical wellness is basic hygiene. The men have no control over the shower schedule which is supposed to be three times a week, but we have heard that showers are regularly canceled due to all sorts of excuses. Sometimes the guards claimed they are understaffed, other times they are at a meeting, and that still other times they are "doing moves." Most of the men with whom we spoke claimed that they had not showered in the entire last week.
Most of the men complained that they did not receive enough cleaning supplies to be able to keep their cell adequately clean. If they request more, it usually takes a long time to receive. They are only allowed to put in for such a request every three months.
The new policy of 30 minutes wellness checks often leads to the disturbing occurrence of some guards who either intentionally or recklessly bang or slam the electronic wand on the metallic button outside the inmate's door to register that they have been checked. First, most men told us that they don not actually check, but simply run up and down the hallways as fast as they can to get the check done. Second, while some guards are respectful and attempt to carry out the duty at night with minimal noise, others who make a lot of noise—some apparently intentionally—are contributing to the torture of SHU through sleep deprivation and all the harms it brings with it. One man told us he can hear the guards making noise already in the previous pod, illustrating how loud wellness checks can be. SHU is stressful enough for those who sleep well. Depriving these men of regular sleep under these conditions is out and out inexcusable. Guards who make that much noise during the wellness checks at night should be held accountable and reprimanded for their behavior to the fullest extent possible.
Programming is usually either nonexistent or completely inaccessible to most individuals in the Corcoran SHU. Rarely do we speak with incarcerated individuals who do not wish to receive educational or other programming opportunities. Ironically, one man was able to pay for his college correspondence courses only after receiving a significant monetary settlement stemming from a case years earlier of clear abuse by CDCR staff. He stated that when he paroles, he wants to have some skills behind him. This man’s drive to educate himself and to succeed in the outside world reflects the wide spread longing of men in the SHU for educational and other programming opportunities, and ultimately to grow and experience success, if given a chance to do so. Unfortunately, few of the men in the SHU at Corcoran receive that chance. If validated individuals do not have the financial resources, receiving an education while in the custody of CDCR is nearly impossible.
Obtaining a GED is also a challenge. One man who was approved to take the GED course has been waiting five months for his course to start, but nothing has happened. Another noted, however, that he was able to acquire his GED along with others in SHU. He said this occurred due to the hunger strikes. Previously, he noted that people could study for the GED, but never finish it and get their certificate.
Despite The "R" in CDCR, rehabilitation does not appear to be a priority to those who have the power and ability to implement rehabilitative programming. As one interviewee asked rhetorically in reference to his eventual release, “What am I going to do with $200 and no education? Am I going to be able to get a job? Is that going to benefit society?”
Access to the law library is limited, and often completely inaccessible to those who are not PLU (Priority Legal User). This situation prevents men who are considering a lawsuit to get informed about how to do so and thus prevents them from exercising their basic legal rights. Men without active cases have reported putting in multiple requests over the years, and have still never been granted access to the law library. Though the law library finally got computers, many of the men have no experience with computers and nobody in the library (including the librarian) has been willing to show them how they work. This again leads to a denial of legal rights. One man explained that he spent his entire allotted time in the library just trying to figure out how to use the computer. He had made little progress before the guard suddenly announced that his time was up. In addition, many (if not most, or even all) of the law books in the library are outdated. Many are from the 1990s and have pages torn out of them. According to one man, when he reported missing pages, the guard cynically replied, "Talk to your buddies. They stole it.”
Like showers, the yard is often canceled suddenly for all sets of excuses. Lately the excuse is often due to the morning fog, but there is never any yard time given later in the day to make up for the cancelled time. Getting out to yard is extremely important for anyone who is being locked up 24/7 for most of the week. CDCR must end immediately this practice of regularly canceling the minimal amount of yard time demanded by law when no makeup time is allowed.
The main complaint we receive regarding mail is of unnecessary delays. Two interviewees explained that they often go two weeks or more without receiving any mail, and then receive a stack of letters with different postdates, all at one time. They suspected that the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) is behind these delays. Sometimes men do not receive their letters at all. We also receive complaints about family members not receiving mail from their incarcerated loved ones. These occurrences are especially upsetting to the men who take the time to produce detailed letters or intricate artwork for their family members, as they have little else they can offer their loved ones as gifts. We received one report stating that the guards are opening his legal mail outside of his presence, against legal mail policy, because he has a case against CDCR. This same man reported that his legal mail was taking ten days to leave the prison, which can have serious consequences as the courts have strict deadlines.
We continue to receive a steady stream of complaints regarding the quality and safety of the food. Contrary to Pelican Bay where the food is now served by prisoners who wear gloves, hats, and smocks, the food at Corcoran is served by guards who wear none of the above. One man stated that if a spoon falls on the floor, the guards just shake it off and keep on serving (he saw this happen on one occasion). The trays are delivered after they all have been stacked up and sitting, which is why the food is usually cold and covered in flies when it arrives at the cells. The men complain that the food is soggy and tasteless, the portions are small, and items are frequently missing. The Kosher meals are reportedly the only meals that include fresh vegetables. One must meet with a Rabbi, however, to be approved for Kosher meals. The Halal meals include meat, but one man noted that it is so processed that he would hardly refer to it as "meat." The five core demands of the 2013 Hunger Strike of 2013 included the provision of “adequate and nutritious food.” Clearly that is one demand that has not been met.
The complaints outlined in this report are of a serious nature and constitute the denial of legal, medical, and other basic human rights. Practices at Corcoran continue to contravene international and domestic law, as well as CDCR policy. Guards and other staff members who openly and regularly violate the law, institutional rules, or policies must be held accountable for their actions. We press on administration officials at Corcoran State Prison and Sacramento to take the necessary measures to address these concerns as soon as possible.